Benny Feilhaber connected for the game-winner vs. Mexico in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup final. (Andy Mead/YCJ)
With the United States and Mexico preparing for their World Cup qualifying encounter in Mexico City June 11, FrontRowSoccer.com is looking back at some of the most memorable matches between these two archrivals. Today, we go back to the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
By Michael Lewis
CHICAGO — Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and the U.S. beating Mexico on American soil.
It doesn’t matter what the Mexicans throw at the Americans. They have a way of prevailing, not matter what the situation.
Take, for example, the U.S.’s 2-1 comeback victory over their archrivals in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final Sunday, June 25, 2007.
The Mexicans controlled the CONCACAF Gold Cup final and enjoyed a 1-0 halftime lead before the Americans rallied for two second-half goals at Soldier Field.
The U.S. hasn’t lost a home game to Mexico since 1999, accruing an 8-0-1 record.
The U.S. also booked a spot at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South America, a tournament of continental champions that traditionally is used as a World Cup rehearsal.
The Americans’ goal is to return to the African country a year from then as one of the 32 finalists. But Sunday’s victory certainly would do in more ways than one.
“It was nice to win the Gold Cup, but it’s a little sweeter when we beat Mexico,” said defender Carlos Bocanegra, who was the U.S. captain Sunday. “We came from behind. It’s nice we drained their spirits.”
To rub it in a little more, the U.S. came back from a deficit against Mexico for the first time in its 73-year rivalry that has totaled 53 matches.
“Awesome. Awesome,” said Landon Donovan, whose 62nd-minute penalty kick tied the match and tied him with Eric Wynalda for the all-time U.S. goal-scoring lead at 34 goals. “Its weird. You get into the game and you almost forget its a final because its Mexico again. But we realized at halftime that this is the last 45 minutes. It’s not you’re in qualifying and you have more games to play. this is it. It’s now or never.”
The unlikely goal-scoring hero was Benny Feilhaber, a 22-year-old midfielder who was a walk-on at ULCA. Feilhaber has but eight international appearances and two goals to his credit. Goal No. 2 could not have been more dramatic — a 22-yard volley off a poor clearance that broke a 1-1 tie in the 73rd minute.
Donovan called the goal “unbelievable. I was wide and a little bit right and as it came I was going, ‘Don’t shoot it.’ . . . Maybe it’s one in a thousand he scores that goal.”
Added Feilhaber: “At such a stage against Mexico, it’s incredible.”
The venue might have been the Windy City, but the atmosphere was strictly Mexico City as the capacity crowd of 60,000 was essentially a sea of green shirts cheering for the Mexicans. Sam’s Army, the traveling U.S. soccer supporters sporting red jerseys, sat behind one of the goals.
Mexico, behind Nery Castillo running wild in the midfield, dominated the opening half. Castillo set up Andres Guardado’s five-yard score in the 18th minute.
“Bob said at halftime it was going to be a different kind of game for us and we just have to find a way to win it,” Donovan said. “I’m proud of us because that’s not easy. In a game like this where one goal wins it or loses it, I thought we did a good job to get back into the game.”
“We’ve been talking for about a month about how we need to become a band of brothers, and today we talked about not getting divided,” said former MetroStars goalkeeper Tim Howard, who came up with a big save in the waning minutes. “So when that goal went in, we thought ‘If a goal is going to divide us, we’re cooked.’ So we talked about sticking together, showed a lot of character and a lot of heart.”
Brian Ching helped start the comeback as he was tripped in the penalty area by Jose Jonny Magallon. Goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez tried to stare down Donovan, who calmly slotted his attempt into the right corner.
“It was a bit surprised at such an early penalty kick in the final,” Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez said. “We were hoping the U.S. would score off a brilliant goal.”
After Feilhaber’s heroics, there were still some nail-biting moments. DaMarcus Beasley hit the right post and Ching the crossbar as Howard was forced to make a point-blank save on Adolfo Bautista’s eight-yard shot in the 89th minute.
“Tim’s save was great,” said U.S. national coach Bob Bradley, a former Metros coach. “Tim’s athleticism and instincts came in handy.”
Said Howard: “I’m still in shock you know. It’s just one of those things where you practice all the time, and sometimes it comes off for you. I saw the ball break through and I tried my best and today it was good enough.”